The Spread of Communism

In the mid nineteenth century, Karl Max published The Communist Manifesto, which bought communist parties into the limelight. China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba  soon followed suit, the major reason for this being that these developing Third World countries were striving for national independence and social change.
Communism appealed to these countries since they experienced a polar society, where most of the resources were controlled by a few people from the upper class. In his book, Marx declared that communism would consist of a classless society. He believed that the society would work on the principle of “from each according to his ability,to each according to his need”. Communism therefore appealed to the masses, as it promised to level the playing field by offering everyone equal opportunities in life.
Marx believed that capitalism would choke on its own wealth and collapse, which would be followed by the working class rising up and establishing a new, classless society.This anti-capitalist society lead to hoards of propaganda against capitalism, with catch-phrases like ‘capitalism is the source of all evil” being widely adopted by communist revolutionaries.
Ironically,however, none of the countries which adopted communism suffered from the conditions which Marx described.Rather than choking on over consumption and over production, these countries lacked infrastructure and a solid industrial set-up.Cuba is an excellent example of such a country. The Cuban economy was struggling, but the popular consensus was that the economy would never improve unless American control over it would not end. This idea was exemplified by the fact that in 1962, the USA controlled 60% of the sugar production in Cuba. Coupled with this, Fulgencio Batista, with American support, overthrew the Cuban government in 1934.Batista became a symbol of American dominance. Discontent against Batista’s rule gradually grew over time, until he was inevitably overthrown by a nationalist leader in the form of Fidel Castro.
Thus, communism found its roots not in developed countried, but rather,in developing nation like Cuba, North Korea, and Vietnam. History has been a witness to the bare starking realities of communism, which have been far remote from its ideologies. Rather than saving the masses from oppression, it was a tool used by dictators to establish a more corrupt and non-accountable system. The two-faced nature of communism was summed up by the Cuban poet and statesman, Jose Martini when he said:
” Socialist ideology, like so many others, has two main dangers. One stems from confused and incomplete readings of foreign texts, and the other from the arrogance and hidden rage of those who, in order to climb up in the world, pretend to be frantic defenders of the helpless so as to have shoulders on which to stand. ”

Usman Khaliq

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Recession – Going Deeper

Nowadays, the words “downturn”, and “crisis” are synonymous with the world economy. People have become immune to hearing about the declining financial system. Every other news channel, firm, and person is talking about the credit crunch and affiliated problems such as the slashing of numerous jobs, shrinking in total output etc. But how much does the average person know about the problem- apart from the superficial association of it with the words ‘downturn’ and ‘crisis’. The term recession is defined as the decline of economic activity which is evident in real economic growth, employment levels, and industrial production. It is important to note that the general decline was not due to a widespread flaw in the economy, rather it stemmed from a few root causes namely, the US housing market and the subprime mortgage crisis [which was caused by financial instruments i.e. mortgage backed securities (MBS) and collaterized debt obligations (CDO) .]

A Mortgage Backed Security is a bond that is backed by a pool of mortgages that are being paid by homeowners across the United States. These are bought by the investors from the lenders who see it as a insured alternative. The lenders basically sell the loan off to the investors who pay them right them in exchange for the bond. When an investor buys a bond, they are essentially buying the cash flow from different homeowners as they make their monthly mortgage payments. If a homeowner defaults on their mortgage or misses a payment, the MBS holder suffers. A CDO is a way that some investors, such as banks tried to evade the risk of buying these mortgage backed securities. Think of this as a MBS on steroids; instead of one investor owning the cash flow of a mortgage – multiple investors could own it. The investors tried to take out insurance that the mortgage-backed security wouldn’t default, with the CDO paying off if the MBS didn’t. The investment banks bought CDOs from the insurance brokers, such as AIG, who saw the investments as fairly risk-free because as long as the housing market kept going up, any borrower who defaulted on their loan could simply give the home back to the mortgage holder, who would re-sell it, getting at least the money owed for it, if not more. Thus the credit received by the MBS holders would be maintained or increased, depending on the mortgage payments.

The meltdown began because the original lenders were selling mortgages to large investment banks and so did not particularly care how credit-worthy the people taking the loans out were. They started offering these mortgages to less credit-worthy borrowers, otherwise known as sub-prime borrowers. (Government policies such as low interest rates also encouraged higher risk lending practices several years prior to the crisis.)

Subprime lending is a term that involves financial institutions lending to borrowers who are less likely to pay the money back, such as those with a recorded bankruptcy, high debt-to-income ratio, lack of income documentation or limited debt experience. An increase in loan incentives such as easy initial terms and a long-term trend of rising housing prices had encouraged borrowers to assume difficult mortgages in the belief they would be able to quickly refinance at more favorable terms. The subprime mortgage crisis was triggered by a dramatic rise in mortgage delinquencies (inability to pay debt) and foreclosures in the United States. A foreclosure is a legal proceeding in which a lender obtains a court ordered termination of a borrower’s equitable right of redemption. Before receiving the mortgage loan the borrower must pledge an asset such as his house to the lender to secure the loan. If the borrower defaults (becomes delinquent or does not pay on time), the lender can try to repossess the asset but courts grant the borrower the right of redemption if he repays the debt within an allotted period of time. However due to uncertainty of repayment, the lender seeks to foreclose the right of redemption (in other words seize the property and sell it). Now this doesn’t seem that bad for the lender as he is still able to sell the property and make a profit.

The credit crisis arose when US house prices started to fall after the bursting of the housing bubble in 2006-07. Thus many homeowners (subprime borrowers) who defaulted were in a position of negative equity- a mortgage debt higher than the value of their property. Since the repossessed houses were sold for less than the debt owned on them, lenders had to call in banks such as AIG as reinsurers to cover their losses which were too great even for these major banks leading to a significant tightening of credit around the world. This has had a profound impact on MBS and CDO investors who also saw their credit decline as sub prime mortgage payments declined. A major consequence of all this is a close integration of the US housing markets with the global financial markets which stimulated a worldwide recession.

The causes of this recession can thus be summed up as factors stemming from both the credit and housing market. The fall in housing prices, inability of homeowners to make their mortgage payments and monetary policy (increased interest rates) all contributed to different degrees to the current credit crunch which initiated a domino effect- People cut their expenditure hence businesses produced less due to fall in demand. To keep costs minimum and maintain profit as revenue fell, they also started laying off workers (wage bills went down). The unemployment levels drastically rose which caused people to spend even less and thus began a global chain of economic uncertainty and ‘downturn’.

Asad Akhter

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Crisis in Darfur

Imagine a dry, parched land, filled with three different communities of farmers and a nomadic Arab population, all trying to eke out a living. Then imagine rebel militia attacking government targets, in a bid to attract attention and manifest the resentment felt by many at the perceived neglect of the central government. After over 4 years of fighting, clashes and uncertainty at every turn, more than 2 million civilians have become refugees, hundreds of thousands of fearful Darfuris (200,000 being the most widely accepted estimate) have been killed and attacks are renewed everyday. Welcome to the western Sudanese region of Darfur, a much harped-about but little known-about region playing host to some of the worst war crimes and human rights atrocities ever witnessed. (While the US and some activist groups claim that there is an ongoing genocide, the UN has denied this.)

From time immemorial, seasonal fluctuations in water and grazing land had led to conflict over natural resources in Darfur. This time, however, the crisis has escalated to a point where several million people, across borders, across ethnicities, tied together by nothing but their combined innocence, are at risk.

There are two main rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem), although both groups have split, some along ethnic lines. These groups accuse the government of favouring Arabs over black Africans, and oppressing the later. The government denies this charge, as well as the accusation that it is supporting the Janjaweed militant group, who are accused of trying to ‘cleanse’ the region of blacks.

Meanwhile, while well-read individuals argue over how to label and group these different players, refugees tell tales of Janjaweed men riding into villages after government air raids, killing the men, raping the women and taking all that they can find. Multitudes of women have reported being abducted and kept as sex slaves for week by the Janjaweed groups.

The 7000-strong African Union observer mission is hard pressed to protect civilians in the region, facing armed opposition of bureaucratic restrictions at every turn. While the United Nations Security Council has approved a 26,000 strong peacekeeping force for the area, it has been refused entry by the Sudanese government. The government also opposes the UN’s attempt to try up to 50 key suspects at the International Criminal Court, promising to try members of security forces thought to have committed abuses, but this is seen as a panicked attempt to maintain its own authority. This is, after all, the same government that has promised to disarm the militant Janjaweed group, which still patrols the limits of refugee camps, attacking starving refugees who stray too far in search of food and water. At the end of the day, however, as many point out, what good are peacekeepers when there is no peace to keep?

Up to 200,000 refugees are camped along the border with Chad – close to escape, but still, inevitably, vulnerable. With diplomatic tussles putting their status at risk, they may seek shelter in Chad’s eastern areas, which have a similar make-up to Darfur. Following a 2006 deal with a major militant leader, it was hoped that the situation would improve, but it simply worsened. There has been a dramatic increase in violence and displacement since the deal was signed. While aid agencies are doing their best to help resolve the situation, they too are at great risk.

Today, the conflict between the government and the Janjaweed against armed opposition groups is not the only source of insecurity in Darfur. After more than four years of conflict, armed men on all sides are benefiting from the total collapse of law and order to loot the livestock of vulnerable people, hijack humanitarian vehicles and relief supplies, impose war “taxes” and extort “protection” money. The emergence of a strong war economy also threatens to perpetuate the conflict. Camps for the displaced have become so crowded and volatile, with so many uncontrolled small arms in circulation, that they present a danger even for those who are attempting to provide humanitarian services. In some camps, government police and AU forces are no longer allowed entry and there is no institution entrusted with guaranteeing security and administering justice. And so, even ‘refuges’ are no longer safe. It seems that security is an almost impossible fantasy, looking at the current situation – all that can be hoped for is, not surprisingly, a deal. Yet until wheeler-dealers resolve their arguments, whether or not there is a clean winner or loser, it is the common people who bleed, who suffer, who really lose.

By: Akbar S Ahmed

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The War on Terror – And Us

The Effect of the War on Terror on the Average Grammarian

When the World Trade Center collapsed on that fateful day that was September 11, I was in seventh grade. It was evening and I was watching an episode of Friends – coincidentally situated in New York City – when my screen flickered to an image of two buildings imploding into flames and dust and an ‘America Under Attack!’ caption blinking furiously underneath. This was clearly no comedy.
Going to school the next day was a feat. Everyone was talking about it. Students, teachers, canteen-wallas. All I remember was a general and unmistakable feeling of excitement. We knew what had happened was big – tremendous even. But few of us knew what it meant. And perhaps none knew what would happen next.
As Grammarians, we didn’t realize the implications of 9/11 for us when it just happened. We did a good job of distracting ourselves, first with the ‘What were you doing when the towers collapsed?’ and then the ‘Would you turn in Osama if he was hiding in your garage?’ epidemic. And then we distracted ourselves with the politics. We debated about the impact this would have on America’s foreign policy and budget. It all helped us get our minds off what it meant for our future. And perhaps that was good. Because that’s where it would hurt the most.
In the year 2000, 34 Grammarians got accepted into the top 10 US Colleges. In 2002 – one year after the September 11th attacks – that number was slashed by less than half and 14 students were admitted into the same top colleges. Ironically, even though we are moving further away from 9/11 – it is 2008 now – the numbers remain stuck where they are. Since 2001, a growing number of students have opted for UK colleges over American ones. Even those who are offered positions in US colleges may not eventually make it. Student visas are much harder to come by today. The War on Terror has broken homes; destroyed families. But it has also broken the dreams of many hopefuls; shattered the hope of getting into that college that many of us have worked tirelessly all our lives for.
It is not only college hopefuls who have been victimized by the War on Terror. Indeed, those already in college were dealt greater blows. Immediately after the attacks, one old Grammarian was asked to step off an American plane as it was ready for take-off on the requests of suspicious on-board passengers. Another Grammarian in college was approached by an American and asked, ‘Why do you hate us? What have we ever done to you?’ A third Grammarian, let us call him Ahmed, was taking a train from Canada to America. An official came by to check everyone’s passports and when he saw Ahmed’s green passport, he told him to stand at the back of the train so he could keep an eye on him. Tragically, it is not only us Grammarians but Muslims from every country around the world who have been victims of this discrimination.
We’re too enmeshed in school life and tests to really think about the war on terror’s affect on us. But the debris and shards left by that explosion are with us all. It has made us, as Grammarians re-examine and question our religion. It has created uncertainties. And it has given bloom to anti-West feelings where there were none.
The short drive to school is no longer safe. Suicide bombings occur by the day and protests rage on steps away from our campus. The War on Terror is now a natural, routinely part of our lives. Whether this War will ever end, is anyone’s guess. Until then, and for now, the War on Terrorism continues to terrorize all of us.

By: Minal Khan

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Kenya in crisis

Kenya used to be considered one of the most stable nations in Africa. But come December, 2007, that reputation was shattered, and it won a new one – the most violent democracy in the world. Following massive controversy and rigging allegations, which were confirmed by foreign observers, violence broke out on a colossal scale across the once-peaceful nation. The government, and President Mwai Kubeki, were condemned for rigging the polls, and the opposition, led by Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement gave vent to its rage by instigating the public and in the days that followed, over 900 people lost their lives.

Up to 600,000 people have been displaced following the chaos. The largest single loss of life was when a church providing shelter from the violence to 200 people was set alight by rioters, burning 35 people to death. The people who were sheltering were members of President Kibaki’s tribe, the Kikuyu, against whom the ODM have been accused of facilitating violence. Age-old tribal rifts have been torn open again by the polls, and in areas like the Rift Valley, where different tribes used to live together harmoniously, rape, kidnappings and, quite simply, racial violence and hatred have one again come to the fore. Yet it is Kenya’s poor who are pitted against each other, those who live without running water, and with infant mortality rates up to 7 times the national average. Those who have least are those who are losing the most. Another important issue has also sprung up; namely, the results of the massive fear and hectic violence nation-wide on the country’s numerous AIDs patients. Out of 600,000 people who have been displaced in Kenya’s post-election violence, at least 15,000 are HIV-positive.

Health officials are still trying to assess the impact six weeks of violence has had on the country’s battle with AIDs.

Just how big a setback this has been may only emerge once a durable peace deal is in place – for some AIDs patients that might simply be too late.

The economy has been hard-hit as well, as Kenya’s main industry, tourism, went down the drain, following foreign fears and international media coverage of the hectic state of the country. Tourism was on the crest of a wave. It was the country’s top foreign revenue earner and brought in about $1bn last year. And yet over the last month, over 20,000 people working in tourism have lost their jobs. The other big industry was also linked to tourism – horticulture, a thriving sector, with 65% of Kenya’s vegetables and flowers making their way to Europe. A recent meeting of 300 heads of Kenyan industry drew up a report estimating the damage to the economy. They suggested that the chaos of the past few weeks would cost $3.6bn by the end of the year, and as many as half a million people could lose their jobs. It is not a pretty picture, and such estimates simply strengthen the fears that the effects of this crisis will be felt for a long, long time, across many different strata.

There is a valuable example here for us in this country, a vision of what can happen when elections are controversial, rigged or simply not a capable of truly transmitting the views of the people. It is a blessing for Pakistan that we had such a peaceful election, widely hailed as relatively fair, with results accepted on all sides. Yet there is a warning in the Kenya example for politicians too – rousing the rabble may be effective as a show of strength, but it can quickly, and heartrendingly, spiral out of control. The politics of moderation are what is needed, the world over, without manipulation or instigation, but with just one all-important element: human participation, and the transmission of the people’s voices.

By: Akbar S Ahmed

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Benazir Bhutto…Welcome?

So a date has finally been set. Fireworks have crackled and mithai has been distributed among the more eager PPP stalwarts. It’s as if Eid were already here. Our ex-prime minister is finally on her way home.

Benazir Bhutto is a name that has done nothing short of creating waves across the media. Whether we love her or hate her, we can’t ignore her. That, and she has no qualms about making herself heard. Whether it was stridently announcing that Musharraf should make a public apology to the Chief Justice back in April, or recently denouncing the ban on Imran Khan’s return home, Benazir has never been afraid to express her opinion. Clearly, she doesn’t need to hold office of Prime Minister to make her presence felt.

And now, the ex-Prime Minister is homebound. But if we have learnt anything from recent events, we should know to be skeptical. How do we know Bhutto won’t be turned away by the Government once she arrives? Yes, the Government has pledged it won’t oppose her arrival. But it doesn’t take a cynic to know that that pledge has no guarantee. Zia-ul-Haq similarly ‘pledged’ to hold transparent elections within 90 days of imposing martial law back in the 70’s. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto ‘promised’ the poor food, clothing and shelter when he took power. Even President Nixon promised the people of America that he would end the Vietnam War upon his election in 1968. None of these promises were met.

“Politics,” minister Chuadhry Shujaat Hussein is quoted to have said, “is like a game of cards in which sometimes you have to call bluff.” Yes; politicians lie. Governments can lie. Are we to blindly trust the Government to hold back this time? Certainly not.

But what about the general populace of Pakistan? Do we want her back? Some do trust Bhutto’s shrewd insight. We admire her dedication to a true democracy. But in today’s day and age, democracy is a vague ideal. Our first democratic Constitution in 1973 has systematically been amended, clipped, chopped and refuted. In our third world country, we no longer know what democracy is. She says she will commit herself to restoring democracy. But let’s not be naive. The only thing Benazir seems keen to restore back to position is her self. In a ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours’ political maneuver, Benazir pledged to support Musharaff’s re-election…if he promised to withdraw all cases against her. But if she upholds Democracy as she claims, why would she consider negotiating with a military dictator?

And then of course, are the allegations that she has been corrupt. But then corruption, like democracy, is yet another vague term. It is used so lavishly – and readily – with politicians that we’ve become desensitized to the word. What does it mean to be corrupt? As with democracy, we just don’t know anymore.

The return of Benazir may be a God-send for many factions of Pakistan. Musharaff’s time bomb is ticking and is set to explode any second. As his popularity decreases, hers rises. As he fails to keep his promises, the people look increasingly towards Benazir to grant them the ideals of democracy and freedom. Yes, the word ‘Bhutto’ seems almost to be synonymous with the word ‘corruption’. But that certainly hasn’t stopped them from being popular!

“Fashion is a bourgeoisie pastime.” Benazir once said icily to an Indian reporter. Yes, Benazir has given us her share of memorable quotes. But will she give us democracy? Only time will tell.

Minal Khan

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14th August

The streets of Karachi light up with jubilation as a people are bound together. Flags mark each street corner , road and car whilst banners uphold the 60th anniversary of the nation. It is that special day of the year where people from different segments of society and walks of life are united with the zeal of patriotism. And perhaps just for one special moment , we are one people , one nation with one leader.

The Celebrations of August 14th mean a great deal to me. It reminds me of Jinnahs ever ambitious plan to create a secular state. However the thing we all must realize is that we do have a long way to go before fulfilling this dream. The one reason why muslims were compelled to demand a separate state was because of religious intolerance. The 1930’s Congress rule was a testimony to the oppression felt by many muslims from their Hindu counterparts in the government; an oppression they would continue to experience unless there would be drastic change in the system of government. 60 years on , our “secular” Pakistan still suffers from this kind of intolerance. Pakistan remains to be one of the only nations in the world where an individuals religion is branded on a passport. It is also the only nation that requires you to denounce a religious sect to obtain a passport. We are a nation plagued by religious fundamentalists who press for radical demands. Religion is really Opium for the masses and serves as the best vote-catcher in elections. Pakistan has deviated a long way from the course initially set out by the Qaid in 1947. In many ways we still await to liberate ourselves from this hopeless episode of theocracy. We can never taste the true freedoms of independence until this happens.

Perhaps a more significant independence in this context is the liberation of the subcontinent from the British Raj. The origins of this liberation date back to the revolt of 1857 after which the British stronghold over India began to crumble. The subsequent Independence 90 years later went a long way to show that the people of the subcontinent are a strong and worthy people who deserve their own space in the world. As both India and Pakistan continue to weather the odds , their economies develop and progress – the people of the subcontinent continue to prove their worth to the world. India and Pakistan not only exist as two independent nations , but they are key players in today’s political scenario. We have come a long way from our past history of subservience to the Western world and the white man. The nations of the subcontinent with their giant strides in the spheres of economics , world affairs and science have marked their place on the globe. We only await to emulate the glorious state of our Mughal past.

Behind the grandeur of those fluttering green flags , there is an underlying tone of a much needed reconciliation. It is important to remember that both nations worked tirelessly to secure their mutual independence from the British. Both Gandhi and Jinnah put tremendous effort into obtaining liberation from the British Raj which had gripped the subcontinent for over a century. The people of both nations must identify with this common goal that was once shared between the two nations. We must look back and remember that their was indeed a united struggle. It is vital that India and Pakistan put behind the Kashmir issue and develop better relations. Too many lives have been wasted settling old scores. The Jammu Kashmir issue must be dismissed from any further diplomatic negotiations between the two nations. The people of the subcontinent are one independent people

With events such as the Lal Masjid fiasco casting a dark shadow in the background , Pakistans future hangs in the balance. A nation torn apart between liberals and fundamentalists , democrats and dictators can only be described as chaotic at best. As the celebrations fizzle out and excitement dies down a glowing nation degenerates into its former self. Corruption , greed and indifference begin to slowly grip the darkening roads of Karachi once again. The time for thinking ahead and patriotism slowly evaporates. Religion and ignorance envelope the country like two sinister clouds. A storm awaits.

Shahryar Kamal Malik

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United Nations: The Only Security

This is a response to a previously written post, ‘United Nations: A False Security.’

Many have attacked the United Nations for its debilitating veto powers. Some may go so far as to cite examples of the failure of the United Nations. They may point to conflict torn regions such as Kashmir, Congo and Iraq. It is true that there cannot always be a consensus on affairs. It is also true that the United Nations was seemingly powerless at the brink of nuclear devastation in the form of the threat posed by the Cold War. However such critics fail to see the valuable contribution of the United Nations to our World.

To start with the United Nations goes further than its predecessor the League of Nations which faltered before the outbreak of war in 1939. History is not repeating itself because this new peace body has the essentials necessary to prevent conflict. The United Nations has a peace keeping force which is and has been active. We can consider the example of the peace forces going to enter Darfur alongside the African Union forces. The various peace patrol missions and skirmishes in Kashmir also compliment such claims. There efforts are concentrated against insurgents and warlords who promote further instability in these regions.

There would be no room for diplomacy and negotiation without the United Nations. The purpose of the organization is to unite nations by bringing them together in the form of council meetings and assembly style meetings. In other words nations are presented with a uniform viable platform for them to discuss matters of interest. This reduces the margin for misunderstanding and suspicion greatly. We’ve all seen the Cold War with the United Nations , but what we need to ask ourselves is could there be a Cold War without a United nations. Without effective communication the world would have slipped into the bowels of nuclear catastrophe. So when the allies sat down at Potsdam and Yalta in 1945 ;not only did they sow the seeds for a future Cold war , they set the boundaries for that very war by establishing the United Nations. They ensured that this war would never become too severe. They secured a Cold war – a word of wards and terror rather than weapons and confrontation.

The United Nations protects the very rights that we live by. It guarantees us the right of property, religion and self determination. We are protected by the International code and are given rights that no tyrant, dictator can rightfully deny us. The United Nations has prepared a more liberal, open world for us. We can breathe without the fear of some government robbing us of our rights and dignity. There is that assuring promise of someone above holding criminals accountable. And Indeed the The Hague in Holland serves as a court to international crimes. Terrorists such as Bin Laden are a concern for the international community at large rather than just one nation. On similar grounds intellectual property and patents are protected by the WTO, IMF and other such organizations. War criminals are brought before a court and held responsible for the various atrocities. A free world exists where justice and human rights is extended to all.

When we think about the United Nations we must embrace it as a savior and protector. It would be unfair to dismiss it as a biased puppet of any nation or regime. The U.N brings peace, justice and freedom to every corner of the globe. It links us and firms the bond of one people, one world and one struggle. We are bound together with love and respect for humanity. In my opinion there could be no greater service to mankind.

Shahryar Malik

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The Growing Divide

Over the last year the divide between Russia and the West has been steadily increasing. Matters have come to a head just recently when party leader Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s involvement in the CFE agreement (Conventional Forces In Europe). This was a key post cold war settlement and Putin’s decision has been seen as a dangerous political message. It is quite obvious now that the brief meetings between Putin and President George Bush did not amount to much. Can we see the escalating situation as a renewed Cold war?

Whether or not we are seeing history repeat itself, a re-occurrence of “containment” or just some claims for equal treatment from Moscow; this matter is bound to have some serious repercussions. The United Nations Security council for one is going to fall victim to this new political episode. Important matters such as Iran, Korea and the future of Kosovo are currently being pressed through the UN negotiations. If Vladimir Putin’s aggression continues than we may see the re-emergence of the notorious and infamous Russian veto vote in the United Nations. The political stand off or stalemate as we may call it will only produce harmful effects which will hamper peace efforts in the United Nations. Having said this we must also be aware of the weakened state of the Russia.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 the country shrunk in size, strength and power. It lacks the ability to play the war of words with the United States. This new aggressive Russia also lacks the much needed allies to pursue such a policy. However what we are seeing here is definitely a renewal of will. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Russia backed of from the political limelight. It focused more on cooperation with the West alongside peaceful co-existence.

As party matters collapsed into internal affairs with Boris Yeltsin and the following presidents – Russia’s problems became more internalized. The international scene became a smaller sphere of influence for Russian affairs. Now Russia stands up to the West for the first time, in a very long time. We find ourselves asking questions of the past. Can there once again be two power blocs? Will there be a balance of terror? Is this the beginning of a second Cold war?

Shahryar Malik

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The ‘Rushdie’ Attack

So how many of us have really read the book, ‘The Satanic Verses’? Yes, we’ve been told its ‘blasphemous’, we’ve read about it in the newspaper, maybe heard it mentioned at the dinner table. We all know it’s a ‘bad book’, but do we know why? No we don’t, and neither do the thousand or so street protestors in Iran and Pakistan. Chances are that they hadn’t even heard the name Salman Rushdie prior to this.

So what makes this book so ‘sacrilegious’, so heretic? Why is it condemned, banned, and denounced across the Muslim world? My answer to you is: I really don’t know. And it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s an opinion. An extreme opinion, I’ll give you that. But still an opinion. Charles I of England was executed for defying Parliament and instigating a civil war. Prime Minister Bhutto was hanged in the 1970’s against charges of rigging elections and plotting to kill his political opponents. You don’t issue a death sentence against someone for holding a perspective. There’s a word that describes such an act; it’s intolerance.

Despite this, one might (and rightly so) consider the fatwa a serious matter; one that should be looked into. After all, you don’t have every author being issued a death sentence against. Let us consider the basis of this fatwa. In 1989, Supreme Leader of the Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, calling for the assassination of Salman Rushdie. He deemed the assassination a ‘religious duty’ for Muslims. In other words, us Muslims were given a ‘license to kill’ the author because he was…well, blasphemous. Why then did Khomeini fail to issue a fatwa against a group of Iranian students that seized the United States embassy in Tehran, taking 63 American citizens as hostage in 1979? Why was no fatwa issued against them? Khomeini supported the hostage takers, declaring ‘America can’t do a damn thing.’ So when a fatwa is issued by a leader who sat back during an emergency crisis, one should only regard it in one light: by not taking it seriously.

But we have taken it to heart. We were outraged that Salman Rushdie was knighted. None of us considered his contributions to Literature, his great writing, the numerous awards he’s achieved for his work. We only kept the weighty fatwa in mind, a fatwa that is not binding, and has no basis. So he said something disparaging about Islam. He wasn’t the first one to do it. He certainly won’t be the last. There are many more cartoons to come! Will be issue a fatwa against them all? Or will we just bomb or murder them, like Van Gogh’s grandson was by a Dutch Muslim? The Chinese didn’t broadcast celebrations of the Year of the Pig recently. They did it because they didn’t want to offend the Muslim community. But ultimately, they did it because they were scared of how we would react. We’ve instilled fear not only in the Western world, by in our own neighbors. When does it stop?

The real deserver of a fatwa isn’t an Indian-born author with an opinion. It isn’t tourism minister Nilofer Bakhtiar for hugging her parachute instructor. It isn’t tennis star Sania Mirza for failing to adhere to the ‘Islamic dress code’. The real deservers are the instigators of violence; a fatwa should be declared against the AK-47 armed students of Lal Masjid, and the burqa-clad miscreants from Jamia Hafza.

Salman Rushdie is innocent. Let’s try dolling out death sentences to the real criminals.

Minal Khan

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